PoliticsOctober 3, 2021

Live updates, October 3: Parent of baby in ICU tests positive; Waikato towns to move to level three


Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates for October 3 by Alice Neville. Reach us at info@thespinoff.co.nz.

Help us keep you informed on Covid-19 – click here to learn how you can join The Spinoff Members.

8.00pm: New locations of interest across Auckland, including several on the North Shore

A number of North Shore locations have appeared on the Ministry of Health’s locations of interest list this evening, taking the total number of locations added today to 19 across Tāmaki Makaurau.

Pak’nSave Albany has been added for two separate exposure times on Monday, September 20 and Thursday, September 30, while Coronation Superette in Hillcrest has been added for two separate exposure times on Thursday September 30 and Friday October 1. GAS Albany Heights has been added for an exposure time yesterday, and Domino’s Beach Haven for Thursday, September 30.

Other locations added this evening are Pak’nSave Manukau for Tuesday, September 28, Tasty Bites Lunch Bar in East Tamaki for Wednesday, September 29, and Z petrol station in Papatoetoe for Thursday, September 30.

Locations of interest are expected in relation to the two new Waikato cases, but they are yet to appear on the site.

For all the exposure times and advice, see the Ministry of Health’s website. See our searchable interactive map of all locations of interest here.

The spread of locations of interest in Auckland added today

7.45pm: Parent of baby in neonatal intensive care unit tests positive 

A parent of a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) baby at Auckland City Hospital has today tested positive for Covid-19 today, the Ministry of Health has revealed. Staff, whānau and babies in the unit are being tested “as a precaution”, says the ministry in a statement.

It continues: “All of the babies in the unit and those who have recently been discharged are being monitored closely as part of their on-going care and treatment. The DHB’s initial investigations suggest the risk to babies in the unit is low. Auckland DHB and Auckland Regional Public Health Service are working at pace to identify patients and staff who are considered to be contacts. The DHB has plans in place to manage staff levels until it is safe for everyone to return to work.”

The statement does not say whether or not the parent has any known links to existing cases.

“Some expectant mothers may be transferred to other maternity units if their baby is likely to need NICU care that can be provided from neighbouring facilities. Auckland DHB has acknowledged this is a time of much uncertainty for the families involved. They are providing support to any parents, patients and staff members who need it. This includes supporting the Covid-19 positive parent and their family. The thoughts of the DHB, and the Ministry, are with this family as they manage the stress of a positive test result, as well as having a newborn baby in intensive care.”

4.45pm: Auckland businesses want ‘no jab, no job’ mandate 

Ninety percent of small and medium enterprises that responded to an Auckland Business Chamber survey endorse mandatory workplace vaccination, according to a press release from the organisation.

CEO Michael Barnett said according to legal advice the Auckland Business Chamber received, “business can’t just demand mandatory vaccination without testing it legally and that would be costly and drawn out”.

Instead, the government should “help business help themselves by endorsing and enabling mandatory vaccination to provide safe and healthy workplace environments”, he said. 

“If an employer determines that there is a high health and safety risk of an employee having the virus, being exposed to it, or spreading it to others, it is reasonable to require that employees who perform the work are vaccinated. No employer wants to be responsible for a community outbreak that could cause serious harm or be fatal.”

4.30pm: New locations of interest added, all in Auckland

A number of new locations have been added to the Ministry of Health’s website, all in Auckland and for potential exposure times on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday last week.

They are Fruit World New Lynn (3-4pm, Wednesday September 29); Cash Converters Ōtara (Wednesday September 29, 10-10.30am); Orly Avenue Superette, Māngere (11.05-11.10pm, Thursday September 30); Chicking Manukau (4.35-5.35pm and 5.50-6pm, Wednesday September 29); Dollar Dealers Ōtara, 10.32-11am, Wednesday September 29); The Warehouse Manukau (12.35pm-1.05pm Thursday, September 30); Tobys Seafood Manurewa (1.15-1.25pm, Thursday September 30); and Cascade Superette Pakuranga, 2.45-3.50pm, Tuesday September 28).

See the Ministry of Health’s website for the full details of all locations, and search our interactive map of all locations of interest here.

3.00pm: Call for more frequent testing of essential workers crossing alert level boundary 

New Covid-19 cases in Waikato and Palmerston North are a reminder of the reason the country remains at alert level two outside Auckland, Covid-19 modeller Michael Plank has said.

Speaking via the Science Media Centre, Plank, of the University of Canterbury and Te Pūnaha Matatini, said “more frequent testing of essential workers crossing the alert level boundary, for example with rapid antigen tests, would help reduce risk.

“However, the Auckland boundary will never be watertight and while there is community transmission in Auckland, there is a risk a case could pop up anywhere in the country.”

Plank said the fact the Waikato cases don’t have a clear link to the Auckland outbreak and have been infectious in the community for several days was concerning and suggests there could be additional community cases. “Moving this area to Level three for five days buys some time for testing and contact tracing to establish how widespread transmission in Waikato is.”

“These events show that, even with a relatively small number of cases in Auckland, keeping the virus contained to one city is difficult,” said Plank. “If the Auckland outbreak grows much larger, it will become even harder to prevent Covid spreading to other parts of New Zealand.

“The message is clear: Covid is here and it’s a matter of time before it spreads across the country. The very best way to protect yourself against this virus is to get vaccinated as soon as possible.”

2.30pm: Government has ‘lost control’ of outbreak – opposition

The spread of Covid-19 into the Waikato as well as increasing numbers of unlinked cases show the government has lost control of the outbreak, National leader Judith Collins has said via a press release.

It’s “all the proof needed to confirm level three in Auckland is not containing the virus in line with the government’s elimination strategy and a new approach is urgently required”, said Collins.

She said the prime minister was now at a crossroads and needed to give New Zealand “a clear pathway out of lockdowns beyond the prime minister’s repeated claim that elimination remains the goal”.

“By continuing to tell Kiwis the virus is contained the Prime Minister’s rhetoric seems increasingly divorced from the situation on the ground,” said Collins. “At a cost of more than $1 billion a week, the level three lockdown has failed to eliminate Covid. What we have now is the worst of both worlds.

 “New Zealand urgently needs a plan. The situation has changed and elimination seems no longer feasible,” said Collins, urging the government to immediately adopt National’s “Opening Up” plan, which was released last week.

Act leader David Seymour took the sentiment up a notch, saying the prime minister has lost control and is in “dangerous denial”. “The government needs to accept it’s failed and plot a new way forward,” Seymour said in a press release, calling for daily wastewater testing, rapid antigen tests for anyone leaving Auckland and saliva testing to be rolled out everywhere.

2.00pm: We’re now experiencing a second outbreak, says PM; are unlinked cases rising?

Speaking at today’s 1pm press conference, the prime minister said New Zealand is in effect now dealing with a second Covid-19 outbreak. “One of the things that has become quite clear is that the original outbreak has essentially ended,” said Jacinda Ardern. “What we’ve now seen is that a subsequent outbreak has emerged, and as with any outbreak, when you’re at the beginning of it, putting a ring around it and determining its scale takes time.”

She said this would be reflected in tomorrow’s decision making, but confirmed a move back to alert level four was not on the cards. 

Responding to a question about whether unlinked cases were rising, director general of health Ashley Bloomfield said most were linked within 24-48 hours, and many were in groups, rather than lone unlinked cases. Fifteen of today’s 33 cases are so far unlinked; and four of yesterday’s 27 remain unlinked, meaning a link has been found for just one since 1pm yesterday.

The following two graphs show how the outbreak is tracking. For heaps more data analysis, check out the The Spinoff Covid tracker.

1.30pm: From 11.59pm Raglan, Te Kauwhata, Huntly, Ngāruawāhia and Hamilton move to level three

From 11.59pm tonight, Raglan, Te Kauwhata, Huntly, Ngāruawāhia and Hamilton will join Auckland in alert level three, the prime minister has announced.

Restrictions will remain in place for five days, said Ardern. “This is the same approach as when cases emerged in the upper Hauraki area,” she said.

“After five days of wide testing, contact tracing and wastewater testing, we will assess whether the restrictions need to remain in place”

Wastewater testing in Hamilton on September 25 and 30 has been negative.

For practical reasons, there won’t be a “hard boundary” around these areas like those that separate Auckland from the rest of the country, said Ardern. “The Hamilton region has too many feeder roads for us to successfully operate a hard boundary around the outskirts.” Instead, there will be spot t checks, and Ardern urged people in these areas to comply.

Those who can work from home should, she said.

Ardern’s message to New Zealanders: if you want to avoid lockdown, get vaccinated

“It is not a coincidence that those in our current outbreak have not been vaccinated,” said Ardern. “Those who have not had a vaccine in New Zealand are currently in the minority but they are the vast majority of our cases. That is because the vaccine works  but also because the virus is literally finding unvaccinated people. Vaccination makes a difference. It keeps people safe. But it also gives us choices.

“If we had a vaccination rate at 90% or above at either Hamilton or Raglan, it is highly unlikely we would be here today announcing level three restrictions. Instead we would be able to rely on other tools like contact tracing and much lower level public health measures. But while we are still vaccinating we have fewer choices in how we react to cases.

“If the virus moves beyond the Auckland boundary and the places it moves to have low vaccination rates, today is an example of how will need to respond, so please get vaccinated today if you want to avoid level three in your community.”

Ardern confirmed that neither of today’s Waikato cases was vaccinated, and nor was the truck driver who tested positive after travelling to Palmerston North. The driver’s household contacts were, however.

She said a number of locations are expected in relation to the Waikato cases, particularly the Hamilton one, who has been moving around locally. She said that case is believed to have infected the Raglan case on or around September 26.

Alert level decision will go ahead tomorrow; Domain protest ‘slap in face to every Aucklander’

Ardern said cabinet’s decision on Auckland’s alert level restrictions would go ahead as planned tomorrow. She said she didn’t regret moving Auckland to level three and that there was no evidence the shift had contributed to anything that has since happened with the outbreak.

On Brian Tamaki’s Auckland Domain protest yesterday, Ardern said not only was it “illegal”, it was also “morally wrong” She said it would be inappropriate to comment on operational matters, but her “personal view” was that “this is a complete slap in the face to every Aucklander”. Bloomfield, meanwhile, said the protest was “frustrating and disappointing”.

Bloomfield confirmed he’d had his second vaccine dose today, and said it felt good to be fully vaccinated.

1.00pm: 33 new Covid-19 cases in community, including one of today’s Waikato cases

There are 33 new Covid-19 cases in the community today, all in Auckland apart from one, which is the first of today’s earlier reported Waikato cases. The other will be included in tomorrow’s case tally. Fifteen of today’s cases are yet to be linked to the wider outbreak, but two of them have a possible link, and another three are from a single household. Director general of health Ashley Bloomfield said “we fully expect” to find links for the cases.

The total number of cases in the current outbreak is 1,328. Of yesterday’s 27 cases, 14 were infectious in the community. Four of yesterday’s cases remain unlinked.

Twenty-six people are currently in hospital with Covid-19, three in ICU. There are five active sub-clusters that public health efforts are focused on, said Bloomfield.

On the new Waikato cases (see 10.45am update), the person currently in Waikato Hospital being treated for Covid-19 symptoms was tested last night after becoming unwell, said Bloomfield. There are no exposure events as staff were all wearing appropriate PPE.

12.55pm: Watch live: Ardern, Bloomfield speak to media after two new Covid cases confirmed in Waikato

12.30pm: New Auckland locations of interest added

While any locations relating to the new cases in Waikato (see 10.45am update) are yet to appear, locations of interest in Manukau, Mt Roskill, Three Kings, Mt Wellington, Pakuranga and Takanini have been added to the Ministry of Health’s website, alongside a number of locations in the North Island relating to the route of a truck driver who tested positive  (see 9am update).

Yesterday afternoon, GAS Cascades Rd and Cascade Superette Pakuranga were added, as was Pak n’ Save Ormiston, for various times between September 26-30. Last night, Countdown Mt Wellington and Countdown Three Kings appeared on the list for Sunday, September 26 and Monday, September 27 respectively, as did St Pierre’s Sushi in Manukau for Wednesday, September 29.

Today, Labtests’ Takanini Village Collection Centre and Countdown Manurewa were added for Monday, September 27, and Mad Butcher Mt Roskill appeared on the list for Wednesday, September 279

For full details of the relevant exposure times and advice, see the Ministry of Health’s website. Search our interactive map of all locations here.

12.15pm: From November 1, all non-NZ citizens travelling here must be fully vaccinated

Full vaccination will be required for all non-New Zealand citizens travelling here from November 1, Covid-19 response minister Chris Hipkins has announced via a statement.

Travellers will be required to declare their vaccination status when registering with the managed isolation registration system, as well as presenting proof of vaccination or a relevant exemption to their airline and to Customs officers.

A full course of any of the 22 Covid-19 vaccines approved by a government or approval authority, with the last dose being at least 14 days before arrival, will be acceptable at this stage, said the statement. “Guidance will be prepared on what will qualify as evidence of a vaccination or an exemption.”

“Most people coming to New Zealand tell us they are already vaccinated,” said Hipkins in the statement. “This requirement makes it formal and will provide an extra layer of protection at the border. It will work well alongside the announcement today that everyone on board an Air New Zealand aircraft travelling internationally will need to be fully vaccinated from February 2022.”

Everybody arriving will still be required to complete 14 days in managed isolation and quarantine, and all travellers except those from exempt locations will still need to have evidence of a negative Covid-19 test result from an accredited laboratory within 72 hours of their first scheduled international flight.

This will remain as “an interim measure” while development continues on the traveller health declaration system, which will introduce the ability to digitally verify the vaccination status of people arriving into New Zealand, said Hipkins.

The requirement will be brought in with an amendment to the Covid-19 Public Health Response (Air Border) Order (No 2) 2020 (Air Border Order), and those who fail to present proof of vaccination may be subject to an infringement notice under the Covid-19 Public Health Response Amendment Act 2020, which under a bill currently before the House would see infringements carrying a maximum fine of $4,000.

RSE workers coming to NZ as part of the one-way QFT arrangement with Sāmoa, Tonga, and Vanuatu will also be exempt due to existing vaccination requirements, as will refugees. There will also be a process to seek exemptions from the director general of health on humanitarian grounds, or where people travelling with New Zealand citizens have not had the opportunity to be vaccinated within the timeframes.

11.30am: ‘No jab, no fly’: Air NZ’s international flights will take only fully vaccinated passengers from February 

Air New Zealand will require customers travelling internationally to be fully vaccinated from February 2022, the national carrier has announced.

Those under 18 or who have a valid medical reason not to be vaccinated will be exempt, though those in the latter category will have to present proof. 

“We’ve been hearing from both customers and employees that this measure is important to them,” said Air NZ Ceo Greg Foran in a statement. “It came through loud and clear in our recent consultation process with employees and we want to do everything we can to protect them.

“Being vaccinated against Covid-19 is the new reality of international travel – many of the destinations Kiwis want to visit are already closed to unvaccinated visitors. The quicker we get vaccinated, the sooner we can fly Kiwis to places like New York, Vancouver and Narita,” said Foran.

Mandatory vaccination is already in place for Air New Zealand’s customer-facing staff. 

In terms of requiring proof of vaccination from passengers, Foran told TVNZ’s Q&A show this morning it was likely the airline would link in with the government’s digital vaccine passport, as well the International Air Transport Associations (IATA) Travel Pass app.

Foran said there were no current plans to require vaccination for domestic travel, but the company would “wait and see what develops”.

11.00am: Ardern, Bloomfield to hold unscheduled press conference as two cases found in Waikato

The prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, and the director general of health, Ashley Bloomfield, will speak to the media at the Beehive theatrette at 1pm, following the emergence of two Covid-19 cases in the community in Hamilton and Raglan.

10.45am: Two new Covid cases in Waikato, links to Auckland outbreak yet to be established

There are two new Covid-19 cases in Waikato, the Ministry of Health has announced. One is in Raglan and one is in Hamilton East, and the cases are connected. “Potential links with both cases to the Auckland outbreak are being worked through,” said the ministry in a statement.

The Raglan person was tested on Friday, October 1, after feeling unwell. The person, whose infectious period is thought to be from September 27, is currently self-isolating and will be moved to a quarantine facility. Their three household contacts are also isolating.

The second case is a known contact of the Raglan case and was tested after becoming unwell. This person, who lives in Hamilton, was transferred safely to Waikato Hospital where they are being treated for Covid-19-related symptoms, said the ministry. Their household contacts are currently self-isolating.

A pop-up testing centre will be operating at the Raglan Rugby Grounds car park on Cross Street from midday and anyone in Raglan with symptoms is urged to please get a test today.

The testing centres at the Founders Theatre car park in Hamilton CBD will have additional capacity added today and a pop-up centre at the Claudelands Event Centre will be set up.

Anyone in Hamilton who has Covid-19 symptoms is asked to please get tested, and isolate until you receive your result. For a list of all testing centres open today, please visit Healthpoint.

There are also walk-in vaccinations available in Hamilton today at the super-site at Te Awa – The Base, as well as other sites around the city.

“A number of exposure events for both cases are in the process of being worked through by public health staff,” said the ministry. Any that are locations of interest will be listed on the Ministry of Health website.

10.30am: Alert level decision day tomorrow – will Auckland’s lengthy lockdown end?

Cabinet has a tricky decision on its hands – tomorrow it will review Auckland’s alert level settings, with an announcement due at 4pm.

Tāmaki Makaurau is now in its 47th day of lockdown, and while patience may be wearing thin for many, the outbreak is still very much with us. Case numbers have been up and down, with the past week seeing a day of just eight cases immediately followed by 45.

The government has repeatedly insisted that the number of unlinked or mystery cases is more important than the total. “We’ve always said the elimination approach, the approach we’ve been taking, is a zero tolerance approach, but not a zero case [requirement],” deputy prime minister Grant Robertson said on Friday. “You can apply some of that same logic to mystery cases, but not all the way, because mystery cases by their essence provide us with concern. We want to see that number get as low as we possibly can.”

Five of yesterday’s 27 cases were yet to be linked at 1pm, with 10 mystery cases in total from the past fortnight.

A number of experts have urged against moving the super city down a level, reports Marc Daalder of Newsroom, who quotes University of Otago epidemiologist Michael Baker expressing concern over the number of people testing positive after showing up at hospitals for non-Covid-related reasons. As reported in our live updates, there was one at Middlemore on Friday night and another two there on Wednesday night, plus a couple at Waitākere hospital earlier in the week.

“Those unlinked cases, some of them have been quite ominous,” said Baker. “People turn up, quite out of the blue, at the hospital as a positive or are picked up in custodial settings like police and corrections, through routine testing, that normally suggests there’s quite a bit of undetected transmission in the community. We’re absolutely still on that knife edge.”

Modeller Michael Plank of Te Pūnaha Matatini agreed. “When you have cases like that popping up when you’re not looking, when you’re not expecting them, that’s signifying that the outbreak isn’t super contained.”

The PM’s chief science adviser, Juliet Gerrard, appears to be supporting calls to keep Auckland in level three, responding to the above Newsroom story in a tweet:

Whatever happens on Monday, the boundary around Auckland preventing anyone getting in or out (bar essential workers and those with exemptions) won’t be budging. During Friday’s 1pm briefing, the prime minister said removing travel restrictions was off the cards, dashing the school holiday hopes of many Auckland whānau. Cabinet will no doubt see last night’s news of an infected truck driver travelling to Palmerston North (entirely within the rules as he was carrying out essential work) underlining the need for that boundary to stay in place.

But despite the apparent consensus from health and modelling experts, there is pressure on the government from other quarters: notably business. On Friday, Business NZ, the Auckland Business Chamber and the Employers and Manufacturers Association put out a joint statement criticising the move to keep an “iron ring” around the city.

Then there’s the very real lockdown fatigue Aucklanders are experiencing. After six weeks of home schooling, parents are now staring down the barrel of two weeks of school holidays stuck in their bubbles. The allure of level two playdates and entertainment options beyond screens and neighbourhood walks must be tantalising.

As shown in our Covid tracker, mobility data since the level three shift two weeks ago suggests Aucklanders’ willingness to stick to the rules is beginning to fray. And anecdotally, the sunny Saturday we had yesterday saw many flocking to beaches and parks, with witness accounts suggesting some bubbles were looking pretty permeable – and that’s not even taking into account the flagrant rule breaching of Brian Tamaki’s “freedom picnic” at the Domain. While one would hope cabinet wouldn’t be swayed by Tamaki and his crew, support for Covid restrictions from the public has been crucial to our success in keeping the virus at bay in the past, and the government won’t want to see our biggest city turning against them.

9.00am: Auckland truck driver tests positive in Palmerston North; locations of interest across the North Island

An Auckland-based truck driver who travelled to Palmerston North for work purposes has tested positive for Covid-19, the Ministry of Health announced last night.

The driver was tested in Auckland on Friday as part of routine surveillance testing for essential workers travelling outside of Auckland, then drove to Palmerston North. The positive result came back yesterday. Essential workers who are permitted to cross Auckland’s boundaries are not required to self-isolate until they return a negative test result, as they undergo regular tests.

The driver had been tested regularly, as required for essential workers travelling out of Auckland, and had previously returned a negative test result on September 24. The infectious period is determined to be from September 28.

The driver is currently isolating at a facility in Palmerston North, said the ministry, and two household contacts have been identified and are self-isolating.

The hours the driver worked means their contact with other people is limited, said the ministry, but a number of locations of interest along the driver’s route, from September 28 to October 2, were added to the Ministry of Health website last night.

These are:

BP 2Go Hunterville; BP Taupiri; BP Truckstop Putaruru; Challenge Longburn (Palmerston North); BP Connect Taihape; BP Tokoroa Truckstop; Burger King Rangitikei St (Palmerston North).

See the website for full details of exposure times; and our interactive map of all locations here.

8.30am: ICYMI – Yesterday’s numbers

  • There were 27 new delta cases in the Auckland community.
  • Of these, five remained unlinked at 1pm yesterday
  • 10 of Friday’s cases were infectious while in the community.
  • More than 13,000 tests were taken in Auckland yesterday.
  • There remains a total of 10 “mystery” cases from the last fortnight, with no person-to-person link yet established.
Keep going!